At last in wonderland

Kerala's decentralisation programme is an example of the difference a strong civil society can make

 
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Here is a success story. May every Keralite feel proud. Kerala is the most literate state in India, the first where population levels stabilised and now they have even successfully dealt with decentralised planning.
But the god's haven't been fair to the state in the past few decades. The state accounts for two-thirds of the suicide cases reported in the country. It also accounts for sending out the highest proportion of non-resident Indians (nris), particularly those who have gone to the Gulf countries. And it is not just the nris. Kerala has become famous as the state that provides skilled workers, like nurses, all across India. For some reason resources have been overused in the state.

Nevertheless, a process to decentralise power to plan and execute development programmes, which had been initiated way back in the 1950s, materialised in 1996. All this goes to show that civil society can achieve a lot. But it was possible for civil society to do this in Kerala with such speed because of the small size of the state. The programme is achieving significant success, although it is too early to dub it a runaway success (see p38-47).

But it is not that the left-ruled government achieved this vision overnight. In fact, factions within the Left Front were opposed to the process, alleging that it was more of a political gimmick aimed at expanding the political base of the dominant Communist Party of India-Marxist (cpi-m). What tipped the balance in favour of the decentralisation reform process was a vibrant civil society that the politicians could no longer ignore, given the size of the vociferous literati in Kerala. But future progress depends on how well the civil society can tackle babudom, which is reluctant to let power slip out of its hands.

There are some lessons from this experiment. First, literacy is of crucial importance if the civil society is to develop in any way. Second, politicians are hopeless but the electorate can control them if it is sensible and strong.

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